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Love Island: When tokenism tries to pass as diversity

PEOPLE OF COLOUR: Love Island contestants over years (L-R) Samira Mighty, Omar Sultani and Marcel Somerville

LIKE MANY other viewers, I eagerly anticipated the fourth series of Love Island.

Known for its unfiltered entertainment, cheesy twists, nauseating challenges and the prospect of love in the air, the show has surpassed expectations over the years, becoming one of the most hotly anticipated reality TV shows on air.

But that may all come crashing down thanks to the current season. As multiple articles have revealed the many staged and faked scenes taking place in the Majorcan villa, the laziness and lack of care to even pretend to keep up the “reality” façade is losing interest with many viewers.


But what’s even more pressing is the big D–and it’s not the ‘D' you might be thinking of. It’s diversity.

‘Diversity’ has become such a buzzword these days that it's pretty much lost its meaning. The Cambridge Dictionary defines diversity as ‘the fact of many different types of things or people being included in something’.

Unfortunately, many businesses are using diversity to fill in a quota or save face – and Love Island is a perfect example of when diversity goes wrong or when it hasn’t actually been done at all.

BLONDE BOMBSHELLS: Chloe Crowhurst and Hayley Hughes

During an in-depth discussion with my colleague about Love Island’s diversity problem – in total, it has included one black girl, two mixed-race guys and one mixed-race girl in its current run – I defined Love Island’s pathetic attempts as “surface diversity".

That's when people mistake diversity for tokenism and merely recruit a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of racial equality within a particular space.

ITV decided to merely fill in a quota and this reflects the dangerous aspects of surface diversity, which is sweeping the nation. Equally, Love Island represents an attempt at diversity physically, but they haven’t actually bothered to diversify the preferences of the contestants.

If you asked the current cast what their ‘type on paper’ looked like, the majority would say ‘blonde-haired, blue-eyed’ or the elusive ‘brunette’. Some of the white female castmates (cough cough, Georgia) go for ‘mixed-race boys’.

For a black girl like Samira, it was always going to be difficult to find love or even equal attraction in a show that merely casts people who like the same characteristics and features (which happen to be pretty anti-black, by the way).

You can’t have a diverse cast without a diverse set of preferences. But I’m pretty sure ITV knows that.

SEEING TRIPLE: Amber Davies, Kady McDermott and Kendall Rae-Knight

As we all know, reality TV is far from reality. Everyone plays into a certain role and Love Island is no different. You have the stereotypical ‘Essex boy’ embodied by series four contestant Jack. Kem occupied that role last year and in the first series it was Jon.

Then you have “the bimbo”, Hayley this year and Chloe of series three. Then you have the brunette doppelgangers, played by Kendall this year, who may as well be last year's winner Amber or series two's Kady.

Finally, you have the token BAME friend who barely gets any romantic love or is seen as desirable – that's Samira now, but used to be Blazin' Squad member Marcel in 2017 and Omar in 2015.

The BAME contestant in Love Island is often relegated to being the residential friend of the show who’s always there to help solve other people’s relationship problems, celebrate their wins, provide a bit of banter and that’s just about it.

Of course there are some exceptions – the ‘exotic’ BAME girls usually get some attention, such as current contestant Kaz and half-Sri Lankan and half-Swedish second series beauty Malin.

EXCEPTION: Malin Andersson and Kazimir Crossley


However, this pattern, which has formed over the years, further proves a lack of interest in truly bringing diversity to the show. Their priority isn’t to allow each contestant an equal opportunity to find love or even like – it’s to play their position and that’s about it.

The only difference this year is that black girl magic is in full effect and many of Love Island’s BAME viewers – there are a lot of us – were not going to sit back and let Samira play the archetypal black girl best friend without pointing it out.

While this approach to diversity has been consistent over the past few years of Love Island, the fact that Samira as a black woman had to navigate both gender and race made it an even more dif cult experience compared to her former male BAME cast mates.

When you're surrounded by women who are lusted after for many features you naturally obtain (I’m looking at you, Megan) and constantly feel sidelined and less than desirable but pacify your emotions by telling yourself you’re fine, this is going to resonate with black women who have also experienced this – making it painfully hard to watch.

If it continues, many of Love Island’s diverse demographic might not tune in next year. While Love Island has had its funny moments, its lacklustre attempt to be diverse will not be forgotten.

Tokenism is not diversity, and as the series comes to a close, I hope the powers that be recognise that.

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